Internal and External Adaptation in Army Families: Lessons from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

By Pittman, Joe F.; Kerpelman, Jennifer L. et al. | Family Relations, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Internal and External Adaptation in Army Families: Lessons from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

Pittman, Joe F., Kerpelman, Jennifer L., McFadyen, Jennifer M., Family Relations

This study examined 1,064 Army families reunited after a member's deployment for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Postdeployment outcomes were conceptualized in terms of the "fit" between the family and the demands of Army life, especially the stress of deployment. A structural model was used to test the hypothesized effects of deployment-period family coping, use of family support services, and perceptions of the unit culture on family outcomes. Especially salient in the findings were the effects of unit culture, which mediated the effects of family support services on outcomes. Moderating effects were noted in the model for service member's rank, as well as spouse's ethnicity and parental status. Implications for policy and practice are addressed.

Key Words: adaptation, caping, culture, military, organizational work.

(Family Relations, 2004, 53, 249-260)

A consensus has long existed among those studying the work-family interface that these two domains are not independent (Kanter, 1977; Pleck, 1977), and that they must be looked at as interdependent (Eckenrode & Gore, 1990a; Haas, 1999; Perry-Jenkins, Repetti, & Crouter, 2000). Recent research has applied the work-family fit perspective (Bowen & Pittman, 1993; Pittman, 1994; Teng & Pittman, 1996) to this interdependence in order to explain optimal linkages between the two domains. Such efforts reveal important differences between work and family, as well as substantive implications for the selection of strategies to optimize the interaction between these domains. The notion that work and family are interdependent domains (Barnett, 1998) is demonstrated clearly in Army families.

The current study focused on Army families to illustrate the usefulness of the work-family fit perspective when considering strategies for optimizing work-family linkages. These strategies likely have broader implications for military families in general and the surrounding communities in which they reside (Bowen, Martin, Mancini, & Nelson, 2000). With the recent war in Iraq, many military families have experienced the stress associated with the deployment of their members. The subsequent reunion of family members following the end of this war also has challenged the adaptation of these families. Lessons learned from the reunion of families following Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the previous decade offer opportunities for understanding how work-family fit can be maximized for Army families engaged in negotiating the military lifestyle.

Work-Family Fit

The work-family fit perspective addresses the correspondence between individual capacities and environmental demands on one hand, and the individual's needs/motives and environmental rewards on the other (Bowen & Pittman, 1993; Pittman, 1994; Pittman & Orthner, 1988a, 1988b; Teng & Pittman, 1996). Barnett (1998) commented that "fit" is an adaptive process. As a construct, fit can have utility to researchers and policy makers when conceptualized as a mediator between the workplace and the family, or, as used in this study, when conceptualized as a desirable outcome in the balance between work and family.

The notion of fit offers a powerful and dynamic specification of policy and practice because it incorporates the unique constellation of abilities and goals of individual workers and their families relevant to both domains. The integrative reach of the fit concept also extends to the ecological thinking of Bronfenbrenner (1979, 1986) where the contexts of work and home are considered microsystems whose interface and mutual influence are conceptualized as "mesosystem" phenomena. Bowen and Pittman (1993) argued for a work-family fit model that recognizes two basic varieties of mesosystem phenomena-internal and external adaptation-when considering family outcomes of work-based rewards and strains. Internal adaptation is conceptualized as the impact of work-based factors on the quality of family life, reflected in the interpersonal environment within the family as it has been affected by the quality of the fit between work and family. Internal adaptation is seen in such variables as interpersonal communication, marital quality, personal adjustment, and competent home management and child rearing. Recent reviews document that each of these variables can be affected by stresses originating at work (Haas, 1999; Perry-Jenkins et al., 2000).

External adaptation is conceptualized as the part of the family's response to perceived work demand and reward that is relevant to its ability or willingness to accommodate the demands of the workplace. This form of adaptation is seen in the behavior and attitudes of workers and family members directed to the work organization or to the community with which its demands are associated. External adaptation is a family outcome that has important implications for work organizations. It is the product of family assessments of the cost/benefit and demand/capacity ratios operating at the work-family interface. Research supports the basic themes evident in this description of external adaptation, although most studies have focused on workers rather than families. Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchinson, and Sowa (1986) documented that workers develop global attitudes about the extent to which their employing organizations value their contributions and care about their well-being. Where they feel supported, absenteeism decreases, and diligence, commitment, and innovation increase (Eisenberger et al., 1986; Eisenberger, Fasolo, & Davis-LaMastro, 1990; Shore & Tetrick, 1991). Family members develop comparable attitudes (Pittman & Orthner, 1988a, 1988b).

Family support for the organizational commitments of workers relates to perceptions that the organization is aware of and concerned about the welfare of its workers and their families, which in turn is associated with the sense of commitment workers feel toward their employing organizations. Such support predicts intent to remain with an organization over time (Pittman & Orthner, 1988b) and the willingness of workers to participate in extrarole behavior not typically required of the job (Shore & Wayne, 1993). Where fit is poor, the demands/costs of one system are out of step with the capacities/benefits of the other. Perceived organizational insensitivity to this imbalance produces resentment on the parts of workers and families. Families discourage commitment to the organization and resist adapting to demands perceived as inappropriate. For workers, role performance at work may suffer. Alternately, where fit assessments are positive, perceived conflict between the two domains is minimized, and a synergistic interaction between them is possible. Greater fit translates into greater family support for a worker's career, which in turn translates into greater employee commitment to the organization and improved work performance.

The work-family fit model provides a powerful conceptual tool for guiding both basic and applied research at the work-family interface. Eckenrode and Gore (1990a) presented a conceptual/methodological model that is readily extended to a fit-based approach to the analysis of work-family relations. The model classifies three types of variables with which the interlocking domains of work and family may be analyzed: Stressors, mediators, and moderators. Stressors may consist of events with limited duration or job characteristics that are chronic sources of strain. Mediators are variables that influence the impact of a Stressor upon the family. They may buffer or exaggerate these stress effects. From a fit perspective, mediators of stress reflect three major categories: (a) the expectations that workers and families have for the stress content of the job, (b) the activities they enter into individually or as a family to handle the stress (e.g., coping), and (c) the interventions made via policy or intervention by the work organization. Moderators affect the strength or the quality of the relations among Stressors and family outcomes and may affect the power of mediating variables to buffer or exacerbate the effects of stress on these family outcomes.

The theoretical model designed for the present study applies the framework proposed by Eckenrode and Gore (1990a) to a fitbased perspective on the internal and external adaptation of Army families following the deployment of a member for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (ODS/S). The conceptual model is presented in Figure 1. Research shows that family separations produce uniformly high levels of stress among Army families (Schumm, Bell, & Tran, 1993). This elevated stress level is assumed rather than measured in the current model because deployment is a selection criterion for the analysis sample. Because deployment of family members places the rest of the family at risk for adaptation difficulties, the model examines the mediating effect of variables that may avert these difficulties. These variables include the coping efforts of families and the implementation of appropriate policies and services intended to buffer families against the stress (Bell & Schumm, 2000; Bourg & Segal, 1999; Russo, 1999; Wood & Scarville, 1995). The mediating role of family coping has a documented effect on what we call internal adaptation. More successful efforts at coping during a period of stress predict more positive outcomes (see theoretical statements by Boss, 1987; McCubbin & Patterson, 1983). It is less certain whether coping efforts in a stressful period are direct predictors of external adaptation. The current model tests this link.

The model uses an arbitrary relational priority between internal and external adaptation-that is, internal adaptation predicts external adaptation in the model. We refer to this hypothesis as arbitrary because we do not intend to promote a causal priority among these variables. Work-family research recognizes this interface to be fully bidirectional (Kanter, 1977; Pleck, 1977). Family efforts to accommodate the demands of its members' jobs may affect the functioning of the family, but it also may depend on the functioning of the family. This decision permits us to highlight the role of internal family functioning in the family's ability to accommodate military demands if there is a measurable one. Further, placing emphasis on an external adaptation outcome is more relevant to the policy implications of this study. The emphasis could be reversed or conceptualized as bidirectional given different research goals.

Accepting the specified relational priority, there are two avenues by which coping may affect external adaptation. One is direct, such that the more adequate the family's coping efforts under high stress conditions, the more positive the external adaptation outcomes may be later. The second avenue is indirect. Coping efforts during stressful periods may affect later internal adaptation; this in turn may influence the level of external adaptation. Both direct and indirect paths are examined here.

The other major variables in the prediction of adaptation outcomes include direct services and other formal and informal policies that may affect stressed families. Research shows that well-being among military families is affected positively by the military's responsiveness to the needs of families for support and involvement (Bowen & Neenan, 1989; Coolbaugh & Rosenthal, 1992; Orthner & Pittman, 1986). This type of responsiveness may be shown in at least two ways. Direct services can be made available and or an organization can provide a general atmosphere or culture of responsive concern for members and their families. This culture is conceptualized largely as an informal policy orientation toward workers and families, but it also may incorporate formal policies and procedures. Our model uses both forms of organizational responsiveness (services and culture) and conceptualizes each as a mediator that, by reducing the effects of a family member's deployment, predicts positive adaptive outcomes for families, both internally and externally. The two factors are expected to operate on family adaptation in somewhat different ways. Services have the character of a product in that a service user must know of its availability and must actually use the service before it can have a direct benefit. Even with its use, only positive experiences are likely to generate the desired outcome. Consequently, it is hypothesized that satisfaction with services used by families in the period of a member's deployment will relate positively to the family's internal and external adaptation outcomes later.

A culture of responsive concern is not like a product or service. Rather, it is a perception of the organization that may be based on direct experience. The focus of this perception is important. It might be based on respondents' global attitudes about the Army as a whole or conceptualized as a more local phenomenon embodied in the culture of the unit. Consistent with Bowen, Orthner, and Zimmerman (1993), we consider the important organizational culture to be local, and we measure it as the perceived attitudes and behavior of unit leaders. It is through these behaviors and attitudes that the organization's investment in its workers and concern for their welfare and that of their families is communicated most directly. It is hypothesized that the perception of a supportive and responsive unit culture will be a positive predictor of both internal and external adaptation. Research showing a link between organizational responsiveness and family well-being supports the hypothesized relation between unit culture and internal adaptation (Bowen & Neenan, 1989; Coolbaugh & Rosenthal, 1992; Orthner & Pittman, 1986). Similarly, the documented link between organizational support and family willingness to encourage the career commitments of military members is consistent with the predicted link between unit culture and external adaptation (Orthner & Pittman; Pittman & Orthner, 1988a, 1988b).

The final link presented in Figure 1 also is relevant to our mediation model. Beyond the already hypothesized direct relations between satisfaction with services and both internal and external family adaptation, we expect that experiences with services will shape individuals' perceptions of the local culture of support. Therefore, we hypothesized that satisfaction with services is related to the perception of responsive concern for families at the local unit level. If this linkage is supported, satisfaction with services may predict adaptive outcomes both directly and indirectly by first affecting the perceptions of the unit culture of support.

All relations thus far specified are mediating relations, because the model assumes an elevated stress load, and the independent variables (coping, services, and unit culture) are hypothesized to enhance family adaptation in the face of the stress of deployment. The role of moderating variables is also of interest because they can alter the power of the relations in the model. The rank of deployed members, their majority/minority ethnic status, and their parental status are examined as moderators in the analysis. Rank is expected to moderate the relations in the model because rank is a proxy for socioeconomic status (SES). Specifically, officer wives have more resources and status to draw upon in facing the effects of deployment-related stress. Thus, the role of coping during deployment, use of services, or perceptions of unit culture may vary in affecting adaptation. The majority/minority factor is included, because belonging to a racial/ethnic minority may affect the use or impact of services or the perceptions of the unit culture that we hypothesize are important to adaptive outcomes. Finally, parental status is examined because parents have additional demands that they must address alone during a deployment situation. Therefore, the effects of variables on adaptation may vary by this factor. In sum, moderators have their effects by increasing or decreasing the strength of relations in the model. Where reliable moderator effects are found, implications for targeting services can be drawn more effectively.



We used the 1992 Survey of Army Families II in USAR-EUR (U.S. Army in Europe), sponsored by the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center. The survey asked about personal and family adaptation during the deployment, the use of and satisfaction with both unit- and community-based services, family reunion following deployment, and marital and family adaptation in this final period. The present analysis examined the 1,064 civilian wives of active duty Army members who had been deployed for at least 1 month because of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (ODS/S), and who had been reunited following deployment for at least 2 months. Excluded were approximately 115 respondents who had left 5% or more of their survey blank, amounting to less than 10% of the eligible sample.

The mean age of the respondents was 31.3 years (SD = 7.6), but their ages ranged from 18 to 63. Respondents had been married to their soldier-spouses an average of 8.5 years (SD = 6.7), somewhat less time than the soldiers had been in the Army (mean length of service = 11.1 years, SD = 7.4). On average, respondents reported some college education, but the sample mode was a bachelor's degree. The sample was relatively balanced between respondents with enlisted (n = 582, 54.7%) and officer (n = 482, 45.3%) husbands. However, the majority were White (n = 831, 79.3%), compared to Black (n = 146, 13.9%) or other ethnicities (n = 71, 6.8%). Parental status was shared by 773 respondents (72.7%), and their mean number of children was 1.9 (SD = 1.0). Comparisons between respondents by soldier's rank (assessed as enlisted versus officer) revealed that marriages to enlisted soldiers are approximately 1 year older than those to officers, and spouses of officers had substantially more education than spouses of enlisted soldiers, but family size was not different between the two groups.


Before the structural model specified in Figure 1 was tested, a measurement model for the five major constructs was specified. In EQS (Bentler, 1995) and other structural equation modeling programs, the major constructs are not directly measured and are considered "latent." These latent variables are viewed as underlying factors responsible for the observed responses to questionnaire items or composites. Construction of the measurement model consists of specifying a confirmatory factor analysis in which measured variables (either single items or composites) are hypothesized to load significantly on the latent construct believed to "cause" the observed responses. In the paragraphs that follow, the measurement model for each construct is reviewed briefly.

External adaptation. The dependent variable is the external adaptation of Army families following deployment and reflects the perception of fit between the family and the demands of the Army. Families evaluate the balance between organizational demand and family capacity to meet the demand, and the social and psychological costs of Army family life compared to its rewards. To the extent that these evaluations meet family expectations, fit is greater, as is the family's adaptation to the organizational demands. Here, external adaptation is the latent factor behind responses to four measured variables. First is a four-item composite that assesses the perception of Army-related family problems. Each item used a 5-point scale ranging from a very serious problem to not a problem. Example problems addressed include "the demands the Army makes of family members" and "getting along when my spouse is away because of training, field duty, PCS, TDY, etc." Items were coded so higher scores reflected fewer problems (M = 3.81, SD = 0.76, [alpha] = .69). The second variable, a five-item composite, tapped satisfaction with Army life. Items were measured with 5-point scales ranging from very dissatisfied to very satisfied, and included satisfaction with "the respect the Army shows spouses" and "the way you would feel if your spouse were to make the Army a career" (M = 3.37, SD = 0.59, [alpha] = .85). The third measured variable was a single item that asked, using a 5-point scale, "how much of a problem is coping with day-to-day stresses?" (M = 4.34, SD = 0.86). Another single item using the same scale asked about problems respondents encountered as they attempted to achieve personal goals within the context of Army life (M = 3.63, SD = 1.26). Both single items were scored so higher scores indicated less of a problem.

Internal adaptation. The second fit-based outcome consists of the family's internal adaptation and captures the "quality of family life" that is theoretically maximized under conditions of work-family fit. The current model treats internal adaptation both as an outcome and as a predictor of external adaptation. As a latent variable, internal adaptation is conceptualized as underlying seven measured aspects of the quality of family life occurring after the return of the deployed family member. First is a four-item composite reflecting difficulty with aspects of day-to-day family functioning (e.g., "adjusting to new household routines" and "working at your paid job"). Items were rated on 5-point scales ranging from very difficult to very easy (M = 3.66, SD = 0.92, [alpha] = .86). The second measured indicator of internal adaptation was a six-item composite measuring marital quality in terms of trust, spiritual values, communication, mutual support, faithfulness, and capability to handle conflict. Responses were made on 5-point scales ranging from very negative to very positive (M = 4.27, SD = 0.71, [alpha] = .88). Third was a sevenitem composite measuring a variety of family problems that may have occurred in the previous 6 months, including problems related to one's job, emotions, alcohol or drug use, and finances. Respondents indicated whether each item had (coded 0) or had not occurred (coded 1). When summed, the resulting score is greater for respondents with fewer problems (M = 5.71, SD = 1.47, [alpha] = .68). The remaining four indicators of internal adaptation were single items. One asked, on an 11-point satisfaction scale, how the marriage has been going since the postODS/S reunion (M = 9.16, SD = 2.55). Three other items used 5-point scales (very difficult to very easy) to ask about the difficulty of the reunion phase in separate periods. The first focused on the first month (M = 3.77, SD = 1.21), the next asked about the next 2 months (M = 3.70, SD = 1.23), and the last asked about current levels of postreunion difficulty (M = 4.18, SD = 1.03).

Personal and family functioning/coping during deployment. Coping/functioning during deployment is hypothesized as the latent variable behind responses to six items, each of which taps how wives of deployed Army members felt they managed a day-to-day activity. Using a 5-point scale ranging from very poorly to very well, the activities included managing household tasks (M = 4.15, SD = 0.96), getting necessary transportation (M = 4.40, SD = 0.99), shopping for necessities (M = 4.22, SD = 0.96), managing one's own health (M = 3.75, SD = 1.09), handling loneliness (M = 3.27, SD = 1.10), and maintaining the safety and security of one's home (M = 4.16, SD = 0.92).

Satisfaction with services. This construct is estimated as a second-order latent variable conceptualized as the global sense of satisfaction underlying three latent satisfaction constructs, each focused on specific types of Army-based services. Satisfaction with 16 different services is considered. Respondents who had not encountered a given service were given the mean of the sample for that service, a procedure that prevented exclusion of cases due to missing data and preserved the distribution of scores among those cases that had used the service. The first-order factor, satisfaction with deployment services, was indicated by three composites. The first consisted of a three-item set of satisfaction ratings with the predeployment preparation for the Army member (e.g., time off to take care of personal and family business before leaving). These items were rated on a 5-point satisfaction scale (M = 2.98, SD = 0.82, [alpha] = .80). The second composite also contained three items addressing satisfaction, with briefings targeted to family members of deploying members (e.g., predeployment briefings for family members). The same 5-point satisfaction scale was used (M = 3.37, SD = 1.04, [alpha] = .87). Finally, another three-item composite used a 5-point satisfaction scale to tap satisfaction with the information available about the deployed member while away (e.g., with the mission of the spouse's unit; M = 2.63, SD = 1.03, [alpha] = .82). The second first-order factor, satisfaction with unit services, was hypothesized to underlie perceptions of the helpfulness (assessed with 3-point helpfulness scales ranging from not at all helpful to very helpful) with the following three unit-based services: Rear Detachment Command (M = 2.13, SD = 0.62), Family Support Group (M = 2.39, SD = 0.60), and help from post/installation leaders (M = 1.93, SD = 0.53). The final first-order factor, satisfaction with community services, was hypothesized to account for perceived helpfulness (again measured on 3-point helpfulness scales) of four types of installation/community-based services: the installation Family Assistance Center (M = 2.11, SD = 0.45), the chapel/chaplain (M = 2.32, SD = 0.42), Social Services (M = 1.81, SD = 0.33), and Community Services (M = 2.12, SD = 0.40).

Perceived unit culture. Three measured variables were hypothesized to represent this latent construct. The first, a composite of three items, with each measured on a 5-point satisfaction scale, assessed "satisfaction . . . with the support and concern the following Army leaders show your family: leaders in high post/installation positions; officers in my spouse's unit/place of duty; and NCOs in my spouse's unit/place of duty" (M = 3.17, SD = 0.61, [alpha] = .76). The second, also a composite of three items, with each assessed on 5-point scales ranging from not at all to very great extent, asked respondents to evaluate the extent to which "the leaders of my spouse's unit encourage unit-wide family activities; know about family problems; and were concerned about the welfare of soldier's families during Operation Desert Shield/Storm" (M = 2.62, SD = 0.39, [alpha] = .76). Finally, a single item measured on a 5-point satisfaction scale assessed satisfaction with "the concern your spouse's unit has for families" (M = 3.14, SD = 0.85).

Fit of the measurement model. We began the analysis by estimating the measurement model. We initially separated this step from the test of the hypothesized structural model because it is common to confront minor correctable problems in the construction of measurement models. Left untreated, these problems negatively affect the overall fit of a joint measurement-structural model. Prior to analysis, the sample was divided into two halves, each with 532 cases. Use of these two subsamples permitted a test and replication of the measurement model to maximize confidence in its external validity. (Table 1 gives the correlations and standard deviations among the 30 measured variables.) Preliminary estimation in the first half-sample yielded results consistent with the specified hypotheses. Each observed variable produced a statistically significant loading on the hypothesized latent variable. Nevertheless, the overall fit of the measurement model was less than optimal (see Table 2): [chi]^sup 2^(392, = 532) = 1324, p < .001, the Bender-Bonnet normed fit index (NFI) = .79, the nonnormed fit index (NNFI) = .82, and the comparative fit index (CFI) = .84. Although Bentler (1995) indicated that in large samples, trivially false hypotheses can be rejected using the [chi]^sup 2^ fit criterion, the other indices add support to the conclusion that the model did not fit the data adequately. The three fit indexes map fit into a 0-1 range, with scores approaching 1 indicating better fit. The NFI does not take account of the degrees of freedom in the model, whereas the NNFI does. However, Bentler (1995) noted that the CFI has an advantage over both the NFI and the NNFI in that it fits well in all sample sizes and avoids the underestimation of fit that can occur with the NNFI. Therefore, the CFI is the best index for models of all sizes. The above reported CFI can be interpreted to mean that only 84% of the variability in the data was accounted for by the model. Convention requires 90% or more to be accounted for by a good fitting model.

EQS provides information (LaGrange Multiplier Tests) that can be used to improve the fit of a model. Decision making at this point requires balancing the generalizability of a model and its fit. Model adjustments can introduce sample idiosyncracy that can risk a model's external validity (Bentler, 1995). To minimize this problem, the number of adjustments was kept to a minimum. Inspection of the LaGrange Multiplier Tests identified that substantial improvement to model fit could be achieved without adjusting the hypothesized linkages between measured and latent variables by permitting pairs of error terms for observed variables to correlate. Pair selection proceeded so the eight pairs of error terms that individually made the largest improvement to fit were identified in turn. Estimating these correlations in the revised model implies that each pair of measured variables shares causes that have not been included in the model (i.e., they share causes besides the hypothesized latent variable), and the absence of these variables in the model affects the model's fit. Although the [chi]^sup 2^ remained significant following these minor adjustments ([chi]^sup 2^ [384, N = 532] = 814, p < .001), it was 510 points lower. Table 2 shows that the overall fit of the model meets a level defined by convention as "good" (NFI = .87, NNFI = .92, CFI = .93).

Table 2 also shows the replication of the measurement model in the second half sample using the identical eight adjustments (rather than other adjustments that would maximize model fit in the subsample) and yielded only slightly lower fit markers (NFI = .86, NNFI = .89, CFI = .91, [chi]^sup 2^[384, N = 532] = 958, p < .001). This replication suggests that the measurement model fit the data well and was generalizable to other similar Army samples.


The analysis of the structural model employed EQS (Bender, 1995). Maximum likelihood estimation procedures were used and goodness-of-fit criteria allowed evaluation of the resultant model. To have maximum confidence in the generality of the model tested here, the pattern of test and replication used in the construction of the measurement model was applied. Thus, the analysis was developed and run on half of the sample and replicated in the other half. Successful replication supports the generalizability of the model to other Army samples.

The Structural Model

The first step in testing the structural model involved estimating the model shown in Figure 1. Aside from the bidirectional correlation between personal and family functioning and satisfaction with services, the model estimated all paths among the five factors, taking into account the specified causal order indicated by the arrows. A test of this full model is important in the absence of a clear theory that specifies which paths should not be estimated (Bentler, 1995). The second step in the analysis used EQS output to establish which parameters could be removed without adversely affecting the fit of the model. This trimmed model was then estimated in the initial test group and in the replication group.

Initial results for the full model indicated good overall fit to the data ([chi]^sup 2^[384, N =53] = 814, p < .001, NFI = .87, NNFI = .92, CFI = .93). The CFI indicated that 93% of the variability in the data was accounted for by the model. EQS provides a Wald test revealing the impact on a model's fit when parameters are dropped. When three nonsignificant parameters were "trimmed" from the model, the fit indicators of the resulting structural model were unchanged, indicating a good fit for the reduced model. Because confidence in the external validity of the model required replication, a stacked model analysis was conducted in which the reduced model was tested in the two half-samples using the same model constraints simultaneously. For this analysis, the structural parameters in the two groups were constrained to be equal. The results from this analysis are presented in Figure 2. EQS provides only one set of fit indices for stacked analysis (Bentler, 1995). They indicated a generally good fit to the data (NFI = .86, NNFI = .91, CFI = .92). Although the [chi]^sup 2^ was significant ([chi]^sup 2^[781, N = 1064] = 1790, p < .001), it largely represented the sensitivity of [chi]^sup 2^ to large sample size. The small differences in coefficients and R^sup 2^^sub S^ were all nonsignificant, and the pattern of findings indicated strong replication, plainly supporting the model's generalizability to other Army families with recent experience of a deployed member.

Looking first at the results for external adaptation, by subtracting the error coefficient from 1, approximately 33% of the variability was explained by three significant effects. By far the strongest effect was perception of unit culture. A standard deviation difference in perceived unit culture was accompanied by over a half standard deviation change in external family adaptation. External adaptation also was directly predicted by satisfaction with services and by the level of personal and family functioning during deployment. Interestingly, although family functioning during deployment was related to post-ODS/S external adaptation, concurrent (post-ODS/S) internal family adaptation was not. Bivariate relations among the five major latent variables appear in Table 3 and indicate that family coping during deployment and internal adaptation afterward were both moderately related to external adaptation after reunion. However, the relation with deployment period family functioning was somewhat stronger. Apparently, external adaptation following family reunions after deployment was more strongly linked to coping in the period of separation than to the nature of the reunion period.

About 12% of the variability in post-ODS/S internal family adaptation was explained by family coping during deployment and current perceptions of the unit culture. Better coping during family separation and more positive perceptions of the unit culture were each directly related to higher internal adaptation following reunion. Only satisfaction with services was related to perceptions of unit culture. However, this effect was quite large, explaining over a quarter of the variability in perceived unit culture for both subsamples. Greater satisfaction with services was associated with a more positive attitude about the family supportiveness of the unit culture.

The model also provides evidence in support of our mediation hypothesis. Given that all members of the sample had encountered the stress of family separation due to the deployment of a family member, the results suggest that all three variables entered as predictors of internal and external adaptation served as mediators of that stressful experience. The significant positive associations for family coping during the deployment on both internal and external adaptation suggests that coping mediated deployment-period stress, although its role was more powerful for internal adaptation. Those who experienced success in coping during the deployment period reported substantially better internal adaptation following family reunion, and modestly enhanced external adaptation.

Satisfaction with services appeared primarily to influence external adaptation. Although its direct effect was modest, its powerful association with perceptions of unit culture made it an important indirect influence on external adaptation. A similar indirect effect on internal adaptation also was observed. When spouses reported satisfactory experiences with services, their overall impressions of the unit and its leadership were more positive. For example, the leadership was perceived as more aware of and concerned about family problems. They also were considered more involved with families and conscious of the need to involve families in unit activities while the deployed member was gone. This perceived sensitivity on the part of unit leadership translated into higher external adaptation and into modestly higher internal adaptation. The indirect path from support services through perceived unit culture to external family adaptation was over twice the size of its direct effect (I.E. = .40 in both the test and replication samples). This pattern suggests that, although services have a modest positive impact on external adaptation, when combined with a supportive unit culture, their impact is pronounced. The indirect path from services through unit culture to internal adaptation was substantially smaller (I.E. = .15 and .14 in the test and replication samples, respectively). Nevertheless, given the absence of direct relations between services and internal adaptation, the indirect link suggests the importance of combining a culture of support with positive service experience to enhance the internal functioning of families when they are reunited following deployments.

The role of a supportive unit culture as an amplifier of the effects of services on family adaptation is important, but so are the direct effects of a culture of support on both forms of family adaptation. These connections reveal a meaningful role for unit culture as a mediator of deployment-related stress on families. Specifically, the perception of fit with stressful organizational demands (external adaptation) and the maintenance of a high-quality family life in the context of these demands (internal adaptation) was enhanced where units and their leadership were recognized as supportive and concerned about families under stress.

The Effects of Moderator Variables

In addition to the mediation hypotheses, we proposed that characteristics of respondents would moderate the relations in the model. Tests for moderating influences require comparing the patterns of relations between groups. Specifically, wives of enlisted soldiers were compared with wives of Army officers; White spouses (majority status) were compared with all others (collectively identified with minority ethnic status); and parents were compared with nonparents. These comparisons involved "stacking" models in a two-step analysis process. First, identical models are estimated in each of the selected groups while constraining the structural parameters to be equal in both groups. Where parameters are actually different, the equality constraint negatively affects the fit index (Bender, 1995). The LaGrange Multiplier Test was used to identify which constraints had to be released to improve the fit of the model. The second step reruns the stacked models with the problematic constraints removed. Differences between parameters identified by the LaGrange Multiplier Test in the first step are interpreted as significant (Bentler).

Model comparisons by rank of Army spouse. Comparisons were made between the spouses of enlisted personnel and officers (see Table 4, Test 1). Bolded betas in the table are significantly different across the models. Of the seven relations tested, two were affected by the rank of the deployed family member. First, the significant association between deployment-period family coping and external adaptation was significant for the wives of enlisted men and not for the wives of officers. The other moderating influence was of the relation between perceived unit culture and external family adaptation. Although positive and strong in both groups, its strength was slightly greater among wives of enlisted soldiers than wives of officers. Examining the R^sup 2^^sub S^ for the two groups, the model was more powerful in predicting both internal and external adaptation for the families of enlisted members. Nearly 50% more variance was explained in each outcome for enlisted wives compared to officer wives. However, perceptions of unit culture were more powerfully predicted among officer wives compared to enlisted wives.

Model comparisons by majority/minority ethnic status of Army spouse. The comparisons made between majority and minority respondents are presented in Table 4, Test 2. Only the link between satisfaction with services and perceptions of a supportive unit culture revealed a pattern consistent with moderation. Although this relation was significant and strong in both models, for majority respondents, satisfaction with services was a substantially stronger predictor of perceived unit culture. For this subgroup, the model accounted for twice the variance in perceived unit culture than for minority respondents.

Model comparisons by parental status of the Army spouse. The final comparison was between parents and nonparents (see Table 4, Test 3). Parental status moderated the relation between deployment-period family coping and later internal family adaptation; this link was nearly twice as strong among parents compared to nonparents. Further, the model explained over twice the variance for internal adaptation for parents as for nonparents.


The analysis presented here focused on the spouses of Army members deployed for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (ODS/S). Rohall, Segal, and Segal (1999) noted that with downsizing of military forces, the Army has been called upon to fulfill a greater number of missions with fewer human resources, thus creating a situation of more frequent separation for family members. One of the greatest Stressors that Army families experience is separation due to deployment (Schumm etal, 1993; Van Vranken, Jellen, Knudson, Marlowe, & Segal, 1984). The ways in which spouses handle these separations predict their overall view of the Army (Coolbaugh & Rosenthal, 1992), which in turn affects their support for the member's career (Pittman & Orthner, 1988b), and ultimately the member's career commitment (Orthner & Pittman, 1986). A clear conclusion from research on military families is that families are important to the mission of the Army.

The framework used in this study suggested that family adaptation to the demands of Army life is complex, occurring in two separate, albeit related, domains. Our results indicated that the work-family interface had implications for the quality of family life, a form of adaptation called internal because it pertains to the quality of family relationships and the management of family roles in the home. In addition, family experiences surrounding a member's deployment had important implications for the family's adaptation to the organizational demands of the Army. This latter variety of adaptation was called external because it reflected the extent to which families had difficulty managing the stresses associated with Army life. External adaptation also captured the extent to which Army life was rewarding in spite of these stresses.

The model tested asked whether and how the support efforts made by the Army in the form of family support services were related to both internal and external adaptation following a period of peak stress resulting from the deployment of a family member. These assessments were made while controlling for independent coping efforts undertaken during the family separation. Another important contribution of the model was its examination of the role played by a supportive unit culture. A supportive unit culture was hypothesized to work in tandem with services in the prediction of family adaptation. Services, family coping, and a supportive unit culture were thought to mediate the stress of the deployment experience.

Recognizing that not all families are alike and that some characteristics may result in a tendency to perceive the world in different ways, a second set of variables (moderators) was examined for their potential to affect the relative impact of the mediator variables on outcomes. Three moderators were considered: the rank of the Army member, the majority/minority status of the respondent, and her parental status. Because the results of the analysis were complex, a review and discussion of the findings follows, with a discussion of their implications for intervention and policy.

Multivariate Prediction of Family Adaptation

How do family experiences during a soldier's deployment predict family adaptation following reunion of the family? First, and consistent with expectations, deployment period family functioning (coping) predicted adaptive outcomes of families. Competent coping during deployment was positively related to both internal and external adaptation following reunion. Success at coping appeared to generalize across time and events, and it also induced in families a sense that they could accommodate the demands of the Army more readily.

Regarding the satisfactory use of support services, there were four important findings. First, satisfaction with services was associated with more positive deployment-period coping. This result suggests that the use of these services was not limited to troubled individuals and families who were coping poorly. (If they attracted only troubled families, the relation between services and coping would be negative.) In addition, satisfaction with the services used effectively buttressed coping in the short term.

The second important finding was the absence of a direct link between support services and postreunion internal adaptation. Apparently, support services used in the deployment period did not have a sustained influence on the quality of family life beyond that period. This result may reflect both the type of services included here and the pattern of their use. The most commonly used services related to the deployment itself (preparation and information services, along with other unit-based services). Such services were not designed to affect family dynamics and would likely have their greatest impact immediately. Community-based services with wider missions and longer range interventions were used by fewer people who tended, on average, to report less satisfaction with them. These services may be sought by more troubled families with less coping skill. Trends in the long-range outcomes of such interventions may dissapear when averaged over many users.

Third, the use of services directly influenced reports of external adaptation in the postdeployment period. Although the effect was relatively small, it indicated that the services enhanced family willingness and ability to face and cope with military demands in the postdeployment (reunion) period. Considering these three findings, efforts to evaluate the impact of services must attend to the type of family outcome targeted and the time frame of the evaluation. The effects of many services may not be immediate.

The final important point relevant to services was their powerful association with perceived unit culture, which in turn affected later internal adaptation. This indirect effect was almost as large as the direct effect of services on external family adaptation. Even more impressive was the finding that the indirect path from services through perceived unit culture to external adaptation was more than twice as powerful in predicting external adaptation as the direct effect of services. Stated differently, a positive experience with the services provided during the stressful period of a deployment substantially enhanced families' views of the supportiveness of the local unit culture. These perceptions of unit-level support translated into greater adaptation, both internally and externally, in the postdeployment period. Thus, a synergy may exist between positive experiences with services and the perception of a family-supportive unit culture. When the two combine in a positive way, optimal outcomes are more likely, both in the home and at the interface between family and work. Our finding of the importance of unit culture is consistent with other recent research. For example, Bowen (1998) found that leader support was related to perceptions of less work spillover among military members, and less work spillover predicted greater external adaptation (using a sample of active duty members and their civilian spouses). Another study (Bowen, Mancini, Martin, Ware, & Nelson, 2003) showed that greater unit support was strongly associated with an increased sense of community, which in turn predicted family adaptation. Unit support also was found to increase the use of informal community support, which predicted an increased sense of both community and family adaptation.

Importantly, the perception that one's unit culture was concerned about and supportive of families was related to both forms of family adaptation in the postdeployment period. The results strongly imply that unit leaders played a critical role in family outcomes. Demonstrations of concern about families separated because of deployment, knowledge about the services available to them, and willingness actually to involve them in unit-wide activities that could build a sense of community produced the kind of culture within which families could confront demand, survive, and even thrive.

Somewhat surprising was the finding that internal and external adaptation in the postdeployment period were unrelated (although their bivariate correlation was significant). Before concluding that internal and external adaptation are independent from one another, we note that family functioning during the deployment period was a significant but modest predictor of later external adaptation. Perhaps family success in coping under the stress of deployment was more informative for family members when they later evaluated their fit with the demands of the Army after the reunion.

The Relevance of Moderating Variables

Recognizing that characteristics of individuals or families may result in systematic variations in the way the relations in the model operated, the rank of the deployed family member, the majority/minority status of the respondent, and her parental status were selected to test such moderating effects. We expected these three characteristics to interact with other variables, and in so doing, exaggerate or weaken the strength of relations found when they were not included.

The rank of the deployed Army member was the most powerful moderator. As a socioeconomic indicator, it largely determines the financial and status resources available to a family. For wives of enlisted men, as compared to those of officers, successful coping during deployment was considerably more important to external family adaptation following the reunion. Similarly, the importance of a positive unit culture was somewhat more important to families of enlisted soldiers than to those of officers. With fewer resources and less status, success in coping with deployment stress may serve as a symbol of competence among wives of enlisted soldiers, which translates into stronger external adaptation later on. The role of a supportive unit culture is especially important here. Having that support may go further for wives of the enlisted toward meeting the demands of the military lifestyle when their soldier spouses have returned.

Among White respondents, the link between satisfaction with services and perceived unit culture was greater than among other respondents. Although this relation was significant and substantial for both groups, the model explained only half of the variance in perceived unit culture for minorities than it did with White respondents. This pattern suggests that among minorities, other factors played a more prominent role than did support services in shaping perceptions of unit culture. When unit leaders interact with minorities, it seems probable that, in addition to being responsive and concerned about families in general, they must be especially conscious of the unique issues and concerns of minorities and their families in the unit and the local community to earn positive assessments from minorities. That the links between unit culture and internal and external family adaptation were not different by race suggests that this extra concern may pay off.

Among parents, the effect of successful coping in the deployment period on later internal adaptation was substantially stronger than it was for nonparents. This seems reasonable. During deployment, nonparents were effectively single people; they had to manage only themselves. Upon their reunion, the shift involved movement from an individual orientation to a couple again. For the parent, there was more to manage during deployment. Success in this role may have communicated a level of competence that carried forward to the internal functioning of the family after reunion.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Family experiences during the ODS/S deployment were related to family adaptation in important and powerful ways. Successful coping in the deployment period predicted greater adaptation internally and externally in families following their reunions. Thus, the coping efforts of families must be supported. This support could take the form of increasing awareness of the services available to families or making services more accessible. Supporting families through positive involvement with services also is valuable because such positive experiences during deployment predicted greater external adaptation following reunion.

Perhaps most important are the links between experiences with family support services, perceived unit culture, and external family adaptation following family reunion. Our findings suggest that families felt more capable of accommodating the demands of the Army when unit leadership was more concerned about and responsive to them, a pattern that held regardless of the rank of the deployed member, the ethnicity of the respondent, or her parental status.

Army leadership has a large role to play in the ease with which families adapt to the Army. Although it is easy to assume that the Army support services will produce the desired levels of adaptation, we show that, following the immediate period of the service use, their most important effect is to influence the overall perception of the unit and its leadership. Clear justification exists for close alliances to be built between leadership and support services. The leadership must know what services exist so appropriate referrals may be made, and they need to be comfortable acknowledging and being responsive to the unique difficulties encountered by families, especially young families and minority families. Although it is not the job of Army leadership to provide direct services, its role in family support appears critical. Collaborative efforts between direct services and unit leadership may therefore be essential to aiding the coping efforts of families.

We believe that active outreach from available support services (as opposed to unit leadership searching for supports for families as problems arise) is vital to meeting such a goal. The Army's Unit Services Strategy, developed in the mid-1990s, may be a viable resource. When implemented as designed, the strategy is a significant resource for the chain of command, for soldiers, and for spouses (Caliber, Orthner & Associates, 1998). Where there was an active Unit Services Coordinator (USC) working with the unit, awareness of programs increased among unit leaders, soldiers, and spouses. Unit leaders with active USCs were more likely to report that Army Community Services had a significant positive impact on personal and family adjustment for soldiers in their command. Perhaps more importantly, soldiers and spouses with exposure to an active USC agreed that unit leaders were more responsive to personal and family situations, a key finding in this study. The effective outreach by existing programs to unit-level leadership is crucial to the unit effectiveness in supporting families.

Future Directions for Research

The high consistency of the replications in our study lends strength to the assertion that the model presented here is generalizable to the Army more broadly. In future studies, it will be important to take a more process-oriented approach to understanding the effects of experiences on future adjustment. Such an approach could not be examined because these data were collected at one time, and references to time-ordered experiences were recollections. Further, the logical order specified among some variables in the analyses was arbitrary. Longitudinal data are necessary to increase confidence in the model. For example, unit culture is an ongoing phenomenon that could affect one's initial willingness to use a service. Similarly, external adaptation may influence internal adaptation over time. Intensive data collection on a small number of families who are (and are not) experiencing family separations due to the deployment of family members in the same period would enhance the ability of the Army to evaluate the links between experience and outcome, as well as the avenues by which Army support services could beneficially intervene. In addition, this type of intensive data collection would allow an evaluation of the dynamic linkages between internal and external adaptation.

Finally, a data collection procedure that would permit the effects of unit-level characteristics to be included in the analysis is clearly indicated. Perceptions of unit culture have important outcomes for families. Research that evaluates the two levels of analysis (unit and family) simultaneously would permit researchers and policy makers to understand how unit leaders differ in their support behavior and how these differences translate into the important perceptions of leadership support discussed here.



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[Author Affiliation]

Joe F. Pittman,* Jennifer L. Kerpelman, and Jennifer M. McFadyen

[Author Affiliation]

* Human Development and Family Studies, 203 Spidle Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849 (

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